Phillies' outfield problems are much bigger than the concerns about Rojas in center

After an offseason full of discussions about who would be the center fielder come Opening Day, the Phillies now have an unforeseen, bigger problem in the outfield.
Cincinnati Reds v Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds v Philadelphia Phillies / Rich Schultz/GettyImages
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In March 2022, the Philadelphia Phillies came out of nowhere and inked Nick Castellanos to a huge five-year, $100 million contract through the 2026 season. The deal came off the back of some impressive seasons with the Cincinnati Reds where he was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and named to the All-MLB second team.

Castellanos' first season in Philadelphia was very underwhelming, finishing the year with an OPS under .700. In 2023, however, he put together a bounce-back campaign in which he crushed 29 homers and drove in 106 runs. For most, it seemed that the longtime Detroit Tiger was finally starting to find his groove in Philly after bouncing from team to team between 2019 and 2021.

With the loss of Rhys Hoskins, the 32-year-old stepped into a team leader role next to players like Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto and began to be more outspoken and passionate about the team, the city, and the fans. He also brought along his son Liam who has helped make some incredible moments over the past few years.

Castellanos' season is off to an extremely slow start

However, the beginning of the 2024 season has gone a lot like the end of the 2023 postseason.

After Castellanos blasted a home run in Game 1 of the NLCS, he went 0-for-20 in the next six games. To start 2024, he is hitting .154 with a .421 OPS and has yet to pick up an extra-base hit in the first 11 games.

The much-discussed Johan Rojas' strong performance in Monday's game raised his batting average to .148 with a .418 OPS. Suddenly, it’s a contest for who is the weakest link in the outfield, although that could change with a good game or two.

The trouble doesn't stop there, as the right fielder also has looked worse in the outfield than in years past. Just as most thought he was getting comfortable, Castellanos claims the new out-of-town scoreboard in right field has been affecting his defense.

Either way, this play has not been up to the Phillies' or even Castellanos' standards as of late.

While the defense has been frustrating at points, it wasn't the reason Castellanos was brought to Philadelphia. On other teams, such as the Tigers and Reds, the Miami native slotted in the lineup primarily in the designated hitter role. With Kyle Schwarber being a defensive liability, Castellanos will be in right field for the foreseeable future.

Johan Rojas takes a lot of pressure off of Castellanos in the outfield with his ability to run down balls in the gap and cover more ground than most center fielders. Other options like Brandon Marsh and Cristian Pache have similar skillsets and can help in the same way.

Castellanos likes hitting in the cleanup spot

A player like this doesn't just lose it. There is something going on.

When breaking down the specifics, one thing stands out. Throughout his career, and even more so last season, Castellanos has excelled the most when hitting out of the fourth position in the batting order — the cleanup spot.

For his career, his best batting average per lineup position in spots with over 30 at-bats, Castellanos hits for the most average and the second-most OPS in the fourth spot. In that same position last season, he hit .300 with an OPS of .853 in 80 games, driving in 57 runs and smacking 15 homers.

Lineup position is a huge factor in determining comfort for major league players. It's why you find Bryce Harper third in the batting order night in and night out, it's where he can be most effective.

Through the start of 2024, the Phillies have had a bit of a platoon going between catcher J.T. Realmuto and third baseman Alec Bohm for the cleanup spot in the order. When Realmuto is catching, he has been in the fourth spot and on nights when Garrett Stubbs starts, Bohm has taken the spot.

Realmuto has hit well to start the 2024 season, hitting .273 with a .788 OPS. However, historically, there is little correlation between batting order and success at the plate as he has been an All-Star hitting from multiple spots in the lineup.

While it wouldn't seem to make much sense from an outside perspective to move someone hitting just over .100 into the fourth spot of the lineup, when looking historically, it has benefitted Castellanos before.

Castellanos might see improvement with a different approach

A change in approach could also help for the 12-year MLB veteran. In 2023, when being aggressive and going after pitches early in counts, Castellanos has found increased success.

On the first pitch of at-bats in 2023, the righty hit .330 with eight home runs. In 1-0 counts, he batted .410 with an OPS over 1.200. Even in 0-1 counts, he found success, hitting .434 with a similar OPS. In turn, when he got to two strikes in his at-bats, Castellanos hit a whopping .186 with an on-base percentage of only .238. In at-bats where the pitcher was ahead, his OPS plummeted to .553.

Castellanos has been an embodiment of the city of Philadelphia since his arrival in 2022. His personality and off-the-field discussions show his true character and the athlete he truly is. With a rough start to his season, it's tough for the fans to get behind him, even though he was the only certainty in the outfield coming into the season.

Philadelphia and Castellanos have seen rough stretches before. It's important that the organization puts him in the best position to be successful. After that, it's all on him to perform.

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